Just as every person is different and has her own set of strengths and weaknesses, every person on the autism spectrum is different, as well. Too often we think "autism" and we have a preconceived notion of what that "looks like."
I attended a conference not long ago, and a bright educator named Paula Kluth gave a moving presentation about how most autistic behavior is nothing more than human behavior. The difference for those on the autism spectrum is... they don't always have the communication skills to make their odd behavior "socially acceptable."
How many people do you know who have a quirk? I have a friend who lifts her sheets up before she gets into bed to make sure there are no bugs in her bed. Another friend feels for her keys at least three times before leaving the house. One lady I know admits to having a preference for which way the toilet paper hangs off the roll. Another friend of mine faces her canned goods in a certain way; still another person hangs her clothes by color. These friends are not on the autism spectrum. They just like things a certain way.
What would happen if I snuck into my friend's closet and mixed up her clothes one day as a practical joke. She would be ticked. No doubt. Maybe she would laugh it off, but reorganizing her closet would hit the top of her "to-do" list. And she would curse me under her breath the whole time she properly hung her clothes.
So what happens when you're autistic? Let's say you know that the popular show "The Office" comes on at a certain time, and you really enjoy that Steve Carrell. He's just so funny. Anyway, every week at the same time, you sit down with a snack and watch The Office, until one day, your aunt comes for a visit, and asks if she can watch "Dancing with the Stars."
Clearly, "Dancing with the Stars" is NOT "The Office." If you don't see "The Office," you will miss the office olympics, which you have been looking forward to all week. As you sit there, worrying about what to do, your aunt clicks over to "Dancing with the Stars." You think that's the stupidest show ever made, and the longer you sit there, watching the intro, the worse it seems.
Someone lower on the autism spectrum, may begin to vocalize or hum. He may rock back and forth and shout the names of the characters from "The Office," which will sound pretty disturbing and random from the aunt's perspective. Someone higher on the spectrum may just sneak away to another television or find the episode on the internet.
My son would sneak away to another t.v. My husband would say, "I just can't watch that," and be done with it. He would regain control of the remote (although I can't imagine that he would have relinquished control in the first place). Good ol' Auntie would have to watch "The Office" in our house.
I guess my point is.... we all have quirks in our behavior and personality. Tolerance and acceptance of others is key.
When someone looks you in the eye and says, "Your child is autistic," be aware that autism is just a word, not a sentence. It does not define your child. Praise God that we are all different.
Please check out my book, There Are No Words, at www.marycalhounbrown.com.